Cameroonian raises funds to get needed testing, treatment for AIDS patients
SEARCY — Dr. Landry Kamdem Kamdem’s life has been a series of what the secular world might consider coincidences.
He was born in Nancy, France, while his parents studied abroad, leaving their native Cameroon. His father was a pharmacist and scientist, and his mother worked in information technology. He inherited their love of education and ability to look at the world with no borders.
After?they moved?back?to their native Cameroon, his mother died?of?carbon monoxide poisoning when he was just 17. Had someone known CPR, it could have saved her life. He joined the Red Cross, curbing the chances of that tragedy happening to anyone else.
While studying in Russia he lost his passport and had to return to Cameroon. Instead of following his plan to return to Russia, his sister recommended a research position in Germany. It was there he met his wife Carine, a pharmacist. They have two sons, ages 4 and 7.
Though he couldn’t prevent the deaths of his mother and then later his sister, he dedicated his life to helping others in need through the medical field, holding a doctorate in clinical pharmacology.
He advanced the fight against cancer with research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis in 2006 and has won numerous awards for his breast cancer research. Today, he is an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Harding University in Searcy, continuing his breast cancer research and works as a clinical pharmacologist, mixing drugs specific to patients, considered “precision medicine.”
His Catholic faith, rooted in his family heritage, proves that all these coincidences are instead moments “God provided,” he said, all events working to build his compassion and dedication to establish Christian Research Hospital. CRH was founded in May 2016 as a nonprofit that will help treat HIV patients and eventually tuberculosis and malaria in Garoua, Cameroon.
“If it’s not up to me, then who? God is going to just miraculously?come down and do this work knowing that he’s given us those talents? Of course not. And that’s the love. He put that love into us to give back. … It’s up to the?richest?and the healthiest to do something about it. Not only with their checks but also with their heart,’” said Kamdem Kamdem, 40, a cradle Catholic and parishioner at St. James Church in Searcy.
A new purpose
Kamdem Kamdem said in September of 2015, his faith had become “lukewarm” and a routine.
“I honestly had a simple prayer: I said, ‘Lord my life is miserable, my life is purposeless and I just want to grow spiritually,’” on his 38th birthday, he said.
When a coworker at Harding University, a Church of Christ college, asked him to lead a Bible study, it was through that journey and all the things that had happened in his life leading up to that point that Kamdem Kamdem felt called to help people through CRH. A family spiritual retreat to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala., helped him realize God was saying, “I want you to be in my heart of the poorest continent in the world,” which was Africa.
The vision of what CRH would become wasn’t clear until a mission trip to Cameroon in June 2016 where the next “coincidence” happened when his flight was canceled. He met Christopher Ngwa outside Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Douala, who had mistaken Kamdem Kamdem for a priest.
“We got breakfast, we said a prayer and then he confided, he confessed, ‘I have HIV. I don’t want you to be close to me because I might have … infections.’ I said that’s OK. He said, ‘I lost my family to HIV, I was born in the northwest region of Cameroon, Kumbo. I lost my wife and children, I was rejected and abandoned,’” Kamdem Kamdem said, adding he came to the city for help. “… He is the key figure of CRH.”
In the area where CRH will be established, there are at least 10,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS that are able to get free medication from other local medical centers, but only 10 percent he said receive the medications. Because blood tests cost $10 and are required to know how much medication to prescribe, people rarely come back for regular, needed treatment, which is why Ngwa had lapsed in his treatments. Or patients are expected to do the blood tests themselves. For two months, Ngwa couldn’t even get $10 despite begging for money.
“I said, ‘How about the doctors who care for you?’ He said, ‘No, they don’t care. They insult us. They stigmatize us, you have HIV, you’re not supposed to get it,’” Kamdem Kamdem said.
Helping the vulnerable
Kamdem Kamdem and others who wish to join will go on another mission trip to Garoua in June.
CRH is focusing this year on adopting HIV/AIDS patients in Garoua, and in the coming years it will focus on monitoring patient care, building a facility and doing scientific research to improve care. All patient care will be free.
“Once we adopt them we’re going to monitor and make sure they’re actually improving their health over one year. Once we have those data what we’re going to do then is justify funding to have the research hospital to improve the health of their specific problems,” Kamdem Kamdem said.
“If we don’t do research studies among poor people, how can we help them? Same thing with children at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. If we didn’t do research on children, would we be able to help children? It’s the same concept.”
CRH hosted its first “convention” April 21-22 at St. James and Harding University, which included dinner, an African dance, fashion show and information about CRH’s mission, netting nearly $3,900. Total profits so far have been $21,200, which will allow CRH to help approximately 180 HIV patients.
One day, Kamdem Kamdem said he hopes for CRH to have branches in Asia, South America and North America.
“It will be a model of ‘If we love, if we care, we can find a way to help people,’” he said. “We don’t always have to agree on things, but at least we understand the poorest and sickest need our help.”